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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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Refuting Origins

Refuting Origins

(p.73) Chapter 8 Refuting Origins
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the debate among experts over the origins of the Hindu-Arabic numerals. One such expert was the French mathematician and historian Michel Chasles, who argued that by the fifth century, France already had a decimal place-value system for computations documented in Boethius's Arithmetic, which seemed to use a multiplication table with Arabic numbers. For much of the nineteenth century, the Indian origin of positional decimal notation had been challenged. The chapter also considers the claim made by George Rusby Kaye in 1907 that the numerals and the decimal system could not have been Indian in origin and that the history of Hindu-Arabic number representation was complicated by the existence of so many forgeries of the time. Whatever the truth, it is quite likely that sometime in the fifth century, Indian numbers had come to Alexandria via a trade route through Syria before moving westward.

Keywords:   place-value, Hindu-Arabic numerals, Michel Chasles, France, decimal system, Arabic numbers, George Rusby Kaye, forgeries, Indian numbers, Alexandria

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